More Branson photos…

More photos have been added to the Misc (“Other Places”) photo gallery:

There are now over 26,000 photos in this gallery. New additions include:

  • Branson Treehouse Adventure – tour the “Captain’s Quarters” treehouse.
  • Branson Landing – including the water and fire show designed by W.E.T. (former Walt Disney Imagineer, if I recall).
  • Showboat Branson Belle – Built in 1995 (?), this large paddle boat cruises Table Rock Lake while visitors dine and watch a live music/dancing stage show.
  • Retromania – revisiting their New Wave Cafe.
  • Flaming Margarita’s – both the original Mexican food location, and the American Kitchen restaurant. These are hidden gems in the area, with top notch service and food offerings — a very surprising find.
  • Downtown Branson – check out Farmhouse Restaurant, establishedin the 1970s.
  • Billy Gail’s – a phenomenal “Southern cooking” eatery. Sweet tea, fried okra, and 14″ pancakes!
  • …and more.

“Look at all those people coming out of the unisex bathroom”

To this day, this is one of the funniest quotes I remember from Disney World.

There was a time when Disney was seen as safe and squeaky clean, but as times change, we have seen more and more once-wholesome things be removed from the parks (or edited from movies or songs).

I decided to post this quote here in case anyone else ends up searching for it. We’ll see if someone comments, either asking about it, or naming what it is from.

Begin.

Meow Wolf? More like Wow Wolf.

Ever since stumbling across some YouTube videos for Omega Mart (the Meow Wolf “art installation” in Las Vegas), I have been curious about just what these places are.

Now, after seeing the Meow Wolf Denver location – Convergence Station – I still don’t know.

But it was more, so much more, than I expected.

Super well done. One of these would fit right at home at Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando somewhere.

Details to come. But wow. Just wow. We spent almost seven hours exploring, and are know we still missed areas that we’ve seen on their video tours.

Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure in VR

Here is 10 minutes of VR 360 video from Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure in Branson, MO. You can look left, right, up, down and even behind you from various locations.

4/28/2024

This video was recorded using an Insta360 X4. It was set to 8K mode using all automatic settings. This should give folks an idea of what the quality is like “out of the box” without making any adjustments.

NOTE: YouTube appears to downsize the video to 4K 🙁

Why you want a Silver Dollar City season pass instead of day tickets

I remember visiting Silver Dollar City as a teenager in 1984. Forty years later, I returned. Here is what I learned.

The late 1800s theme of Silver Dollar City is like stepping back in time, but so is the entire theme park experience. The first shock is that parking is free. Today, most theme parks charge more for parking your car than an entire theme park ticket would have cost just a few decades ago. You can, of course, pay for closer parking, but if you are showing up early, you’ll be parked right along the border of the first tier of pay parking, so keep that in mind. They also have shuttles (the “Welcome Wagons”) to take you to the front entrance, in case the five minute walk is too much for you.

When it comes to admission, the prices seemed kind of high. As of 2024, the ticket costs where:

  • Adult (12-64) – $89 (2-day for $109, 3-day for $119)
  • Child (4-11) – $79

There are significant savings when buying a 2-day or 3-day ticket, as expected.

Silver Dollar City also offers season passes (not “annual” passes). A season pass is good for going during that season (2024), so if you bought one three weeks before the end of the season, you’d only get to use it for those three weeks.

The 2024 Season Passes were priced as follows:

  • Diamond – $279
  • Gold – $219
  • Silver – $159

The entry-level $159 pass gives you “unlimited visits” and a 10% discount off food and beverages. It is clearly cheaper to buy this pass if you planned to visit two times during the year, but if you were just going to go a few days in a row, and that is all, a day ticket is cheaper. (Just keep in mind, if you ate $100 of food, the pass would save you $10 off that, so depending on your food habits, your break-even might come sooner.)

It is the $219 and $279 pass that interested me, because they come with bonus “Bring-A-Friend” tickets, each good for a specific date range. For example, the Gold pass gives a bonus ticket:

  • March 28-May 10
  • May 11-June 7
  • June 8-July 12
  • August 5-18
  • December 2-30 (but not on a Saturday)

For Diamond, you get those dates, plus…

  • August 22-September 16

…and, Diamond also includes access to their White Water water park, and includes two bonus tickets for that as well.

You can also buy discount tickets (only one per day) for $40 if you have Gold, or $20 if you have Diamond.

Why does this matter?

Let’s say Mom, Dad and Daughter are going to Silver Dollar City one day, and one day only. If they buy tickets, it would be:

  • Mom – $89
  • Dad – $89
  • Daughter – $78

That is $256 before taxes and service fees. The full price will be $280.50 with taxes ($20.50) and online service fee ($3.00).

A Gold pass is $219 and it lets you buy an extra ticket for $40. For a party of three, Dad could buy a $219 pass, then use a Bring-A-Friend ticket for Mom, and $40 ticket for Daughter, making it cost $269. That is not a savings for this one trip, but clearly would be after a second visit versus single day tickets.

However, the Diamond pass includes a floating Bring-A-Friend ticket that can be used any time during the season — which means Dad could buy the $279 Diamond pass, then use one Bring-a-Friend for Mom, and the bonus Bring-A-Friend for Daughter, getting them all in for $279 ($303.30 after $23.30 in tax, and $1.00 in fees).

That means that the price difference of buying individual tickets ($280.50) versus a Diamond pass ($303.30) is just $22.80! If you buy meals in the park, the 20% discount Diamond gives can easily recover that. A $50 meal saves $10 right there, plus the Diamond (and Gold) pass come with a refill mug that gives you free drinks that first day (or pay $10.99 extra to upgrade it to “free drinks any time you visit all year”). Wowza.

If you absolutely knew you will never be coming back to Silver Dollar City, and absolutely know you don’t be spending more than $105 or so on food for three all day, then day tickets may be cheaper. But once you have that 20% food discount, it makes every meal purchase feel that much better.

And, if you are the type that would have bought the “drink al day refill mug” anyway, that’s an $17.99 savings because you get one with the pass.

It’s a tremendously good deal. I had no intention to buy a season pass for Silver Dollar City, but once I did the math, it just made sense. Just sitting and eating twice saved more than the tiny price difference from day tickets to season pass!

And now it means a road trip weekend gets cheaper, since Dad has a season pass, and if the trip is during a different Bring-A-Friend time, Mom will get another free ticket, and Daughter can get in for just $20.

And, considering the high cost of the separate attractions all around Branson, Missouri ($27 just to go to the amazing Butterfly Palace), having a Silver Dollar City pass gives cheap access to live entertainment, rides, discounted food and more.

Hope this helps… Photos from Silver Dollar City will be coming to my Theme Parks gallery as soon as I have time to sort them.

Until then…

Recording restrictions at Silver Dollar City

“It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”

Grace Murray Hopper

Although there is logic to this famous quote, I prefer to follow the rules when I am at a theme park. Many rules are there for safety reasons, after all. Other rules are there just because that is what the owner wants on their property. Fair enough.

If you do a bit of searching, you will find countless tales of folks getting kicked out of parks — or even having their annual/season pass revoked — for rule breaking. Others, however, freely break rules and share their exploits on YouTube and never get caught.

A big rule that gets broken is “no video recording.” You can find many mainstream YouTubers that frequently share videos taken in attractions that have signs clearly posted saying “no video recording.” Sometimes these are recorded at special publicity events where influencers are invited, or at a special before or after hours “coaster party” where they allow it, but generally they are just rule breaking. And often they know it —they will even include clips of the signs that say “no video recording.” 😉

I have been documenting theme parks through digital photos and video since 1996. When I visit a new park, I reach out to them to get clarification on the photography and video restrictions. Before a recent trip to Silver Dollar City, I watched many YouTube videos taken on pretty much every ride in the park. But, I did not assume this was allowed.

I contactedthe park for clarification — specifically about RiverBlast, a boat/water ride they had which is a version of a ride that is being installed at Universal’s upcoming Epic Universe park.

Thank you for reaching out to us. We greatly appreciate the email.

Regarding your request, River Blast is considered a ride at the park, so cameras and selfie sticks are not permitted on the ride, along with chest mounts and wrist mounts.

We definitely encourage you to take photos and videos of our park in guest-accessible areas. Regarding our rides, recording and photography are permitted only on the Frisco Silver Dollar Line steam train (so long as you keep all parts of your body inside the train cars) and Flooded Mine (same as the steam train).

Monopods and selfie sticks are typically fine while walking around the park so long as they don’t interfere with other families enjoying their day at the park.

Please let me know if you have any other questions I can help you with.

Thank you!

Silver Dollar City Communications Manager

So there you go. The only two rides they allow recording on are the Frisco Silver Dollar Line steam train, and the Flooded Mine shooting gallery boat ride.

If you see other videos that were clearly recorded during normal public hours of the park, you are likely just seeing rule breakers 😉

The more you know…

Lambert’s Cafe in Ozark, Missouri

Updates:

  • 2024-04-29 – Added video.

When I first moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 1995, locals started telling me about a restaurant in town where they would “pour a shake on your head.” That place was Stella’s Blue Sky Diner which had two locations operating back then, but today is long out-of-business.

But not because they “poured a shake on your head.”

Somewhere along the lines, I heard about a restaurant that was famous for “throwing dinner rolls at you.” I was never curious enough to look in to where and what this restaurant was since I assumed it would be another play-on-words like at Stella’s.

However… I have no been there, and now I know what “throw a dinner roll at you” actually means.

Coming soon to a blog near you…

Fantastic Caverns and Silver Dollar City

New photos from Fantastic Caverns will be showing up “soon” in the misc.disneyfans.com gallery. Near Kansas City you start seeing billboards for this place as you head south. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were hundreds of them on the way to Springfield, Missouri. There was one moment where we could see five of them at the same time. This, and tourism brochures, must be where they spend their advertising budget.

For those who have never had the pleasure to see all these billboards, they show a red jeep, loaded with passengers, pulling a red trailer, also loaded with passengers, through a cavern of stalagmites and stalagtites. This is what sets Fantastic Caverns apart from the half dozen or more caves I got to explore when I first visited the Branson, Missouri/Eureka Springs, Arkansas area as a teenage in 1984. All the other caverns you spend walking down (and up) stairs. I had incorrectly throught doing a “ride through” cavern tour would be lame, so I never put forth any effort to go see it.

After finally deciding to put forth effort to see it last year, we spent the extra $5 to upgrade to a yearly pass. This allowed us to see it again this year for free. Bonus.

You can find some photos from 2023 here. As I went to copy that link, I realize I have incorrectly placed Fantastic Caverns in my Branson, Missouri gallery, and it is about an hour or so away from Branson. I guess I’ll fix that when I update with this new batch.

Meanwhile, Silver Dollar City is a place I got to explore in 1984, and I told myself back then I should really do this again in forty years. So in 2024, I did. The three things I remembered from my first visit were still there! The Flooded Mine (though now it is a shooting gallery ride, and was missing one specific scene I was looking for), Grandfather’s Mansion (kind of a tilt house), and Fire in the Hole — an indoor roller coaster dark ride. Fire in the Hole actually closed in 2023, but a brand new one was built elsewhere in the park for 2024. The new remake is great, though I do not remember any specific details of the original to know how close or different it is to the original. (I did notice a female fire fighter mannequin in it, which I expect was not there in the 1970s version.)

The park has very strict photography/video rules, and only allows it on the steam train and Flooded Mine, so those will be the only rides I have any on-ride photos from. (Yep, lots of rule breakers on YouTube, I know.)

There is far too much to see and do at Silver Dollar City in one day, so my photos from this trip will barely scratch the surface of what this park has to offer. I was far more than I expected or remembered.

And all of it was up hill.

Both ways.

More to come…

Epic Universe Isle of Berk – Dragon Racer’s Rally and Fyre Drill

Updates:

  • 2024-04-24 – Added note about Silver Dollar City’s RiverBlast.
  • 2024-04-25 – Over on my Facebook Page, Joel E. left this comment: “the Mack rides version also uses a conveyor belt loading system which gives its higher capacity then the interlink version at lost island”. I did not realize there were two manufactures of this type of ride, and ass-u-me’d the Epic one had to be the same as the one at Lost Island. The wikipedia entry for Epic calls it a “Splash Battle” ride, and the wikipedia entry for Lost Island calls theirs an “Interlink Splash Battle”. Do we have any confirmation on who makes the one going in to Epic – Mack Rides or Interlink? If it’s Mack Rides, then the version I mention at Silver Dollar City truly is closer, not only in how it will be set up, but by manufacturer. It seems there are only four of the Mack version in all of the USA right now.

Previous UOR Article: Garden Walk maps.

Today, Universal Orlando Resort released official information about the upcoming Isle of Berk land at the upcoming Epic Universe theme park, basically confirming what folks have been speculating about for many months.

You can see a CGI fly through of the land on their official YouTube page:

This land will feature three rides and a show:

  • Hiccup’s Wing Gliders (a family coaster)
  • Dragon Racer’s Rally
  • Fyre Drill (slow moving boat ride where you can squirt water at other boats and targets)

Roller coasters can be fun or painful. Family coasters like Hiccup’s Wing Glider are generally less abusive, and therefore more pleasant to ride than the extreme (and sometimes painful) coasters. Thrill fans will likely be unimpressed by it. Coasters like this are a dime a dozen – there are plenty of fun roller coasters across America, so this one will likely only seem special to fans of How to Train Your Dragons due to the theming it will have.

It is the other two rides I wanted to comment on here. We have both of them here in Iowa at the Lost Island Theme Park in Waterloo. That park opened in 2022, and I have photos from the past two years in my gallery:

https://themeparks.disneyfans.com/LostIsland/index.html

From looking at concept art and the CGI video, Universal’s version of these two rides will have better theming and better queues but the ride experience should be the same. Here is what you can expect.

Fyre Drill (Awaati Battle at Lost Island)

This is an unusual ride that could be quite fun in the right situation. At Lost Island, the boats hold eight people — four facing out the left side, and four facing out the right. There is a water gun in front of each rider, and a round crank wheel that is used to squirt water. The water guns can be aimed a bit.

Awaati Battle at Lost Island (7-15-2023).

The boats are designed to be loaded from either side, but at Lost Island all eight riders board from the right side and four can cross over to the other side from the front or back. Loading is done with the boat out of the water on a conveyor belt, similar to other water rides.

Awaati Battle load area at Lost Island (7-15-2023).

The speed of the boats is slow. I’d estimate they are as slow as, say, “it’s a small world” at Disney. This is not a thrill ride. There are no lap bars or seatbelts. While there may be some speed adjustments that could be done (speeding up water flow to increase hourly capacity), I would still expect this family-friendly ride to be slow at Epic Universe. (Like, you can walk faster than the boats go, on the pathways around this version.)

As the boats slowly wind through the course, there are times when it curves and you can find yourself facing another boat. This is when it can get fun, as riders in each boat do their best to aim their water guns at the other boat. When this happens, the folks on the opposite side of the boat miss out. In the photo below, you can see the left boat is facing a walkway where they could squirt at guests walking along that path. For the right boat, you can see there is another place where a boat “could” have been at that moment allowing that both to have a target on both sides.

Awaati Battle boats face each other at Lost Island (8-27-2022).

At Lost Island, the timing seems to be pretty random, so in our rides, we have found times when we only faced another boat once during the entire ride. This makes it less fun.

Along the way, Lost Island has some small set decorations which you can squirt at, but as of 2023 they did not have any type of interactive targets to aim for.

Awaati Battle decorations at Lost Island (7-15-2023).

Universal could easily improve this ride by having things to aim for that do something. From looking at the concept art, this seems to be the case. It even looks like there might be some things that squirt back.

At Lost Island, there are also some free water canons along the walkway. This lets other visitors pump their water gun and try to squirt boats as they slowly pass by. Since the boats move quite slow, if someone is doing this, and if they have good aim, you will get drenched. It’s one thing to try to squirt someone on a river rapids ride (they are likely already drenched) as it briefly passes under water guns there, but in a slow moving boat ride like this, expect to get drenched if Universal has similar water canons.

Awaati Battle sidewalk squirter at Lost Island (8-27-2022).

Above, notice you can turn the crank (just like on the boat), but there is also a foot peddle that makes it squirt on its own.

At Lost Island, these water canons are free. If they have them at Epic Universe, I expect they will be “pay to play” like the ones at Ripsaw Falls at Islands of Adventure.

The slow speed of the ride itself will likely be boring to anyone who expects this to be like a log ride. It is not. Also, those who like slow moving boat rides (like “it’s a small world” or Pirates of the Caribbean or whatever) but to not enjoy being sprayed with water will probably want to skip this one. I expect Epic’s version will see much higher crowds than at Lost Island, where folks seem to skip it and move on to more thrilling attractions.

We’ll have to see how much applies when Fyre Drill opens at Epic Universe.

See photos of the Lost Island version here:

https://themeparks.disneyfans.com/LostIsland/LostIsland2023/Awa-Water/AwaatiBattle/index.html

Update: For something much closer to what Epic is building, check out Silver Dollar City’s RiverBlast attraction. In addition to being heavily themed, it also features interactive water-activated targets along the route.

Dragon Racer’s Rally (Amara Aviators at Lost Island)

This was another type of ride I saw for the first time at Lost Island, though much like the boat ride, these exist at other parks already. It is a basic spinner ride that raises up, similar to chain swings and other rides, but with a twist. A literal twist. In addition to tilting (like chain swings do), each seat has “wings” that you can tilt independently. You can tilt one up and one down and flip yourself over (or even spin, once you get the hang of it).

Amara Aviators at Lost Island (7-15-2023).

Lost Island has one tower, and Epic Universal will have two. Lost Island’s version is basically un-themed (just some decal type decorations giving it a steampunk gear look) while the Epic Universe one looks like it will have some nice dragon theming.

Amara Aviators ride seats at Lost Island (8-27-2022).

Since this ride type is relatively new, it should be a fun new experience to most riders. But, if you are not wanting to flip and spin, it ends up just being a similar experience to many of the spinning swing type rides found everywhere. (We have a much taller spinner at the other park in Iowa, Adventureland, but it does not tilt or have the flipping that this type of ride has).

I expect this will be a great fun thrill for anyone who likes spinning and flipping rides.

See photos of the Lost Island version here:

https://themeparks.disneyfans.com/LostIsland/LostIsland2023/Udara-Air/AmaraAviators/index.html

Thoughts

Since both of these rides exist here in Iowa, I cannot say I am too thrilled about them making up 77% of the rides at Isle of Burke. BUT, I am interested in seeing the theming and details that Epic Universe adds to these off-the-shelf rides. As a big fan of theming, great details make a “ho hum” ride much more interesting to me.

I will say that, in visits to Lost Island, I mostly just walk by Awaati Battle. It’s not a ride I would wait a long time for, and it’s not fun when the boats are mostly empty with no one to squirt at, or to squirt back at you. I fully expect to stand in a line “no matter how long” to ride it at least once at Epic Universe, but unless there are some amazing scenes along their route, I don’t expect it will be a “must do.”

Your milage may vary, of course. Something considered “ho hum” here in Iowa might be much more exciting at Epic Universe.

I can’t wait for the 2025 opening to happen so I can find out.

Until then…

Addendum: If you stay at any of the on-site hotels at Universal Orlando, be sure to check out my Garden Walk maps. They show walking routes, water taxi docks and more.